But Truman was a scrapper. He didn’t mind winning ugly. Braving the opposition of his universally admired Secretary of State, George C. Marshall, Truman recognized the State of Israel just minutes after it declared its independence. He issued an Executive Order de-segregating the armed forces. He increased farm subsidies.
And he pushed class warfare at every opportunity. Sen. Robert Taft—the hero of Republican conservatives—dismissed Truman’s incessant campaigning “at every whistle stop” in the Midwest. Tens of millions of Americans still lived in whistle stops and took the frosty Ohioan’s words as reflecting a Big Business disdain for the little guys in those little towns.
That year, too, Republicans nominated a moderate Northeastern Governor, Thomas E. Dewey of New York. He had run once before, and been rejected, but now, with the economy in the tank, the GOP felt it could not lose. Dewey confined himself to innocuous bromides, rarely departing from his text. Stiff and formal, he was described by Theodore Roosevelt’s daughter Alice as “the little man on the wedding cake.”
Once, though, when his campaign train suddenly lurched backward into a crowd of well-scrubbed Dewey backers, the Governor ad-libbed: “We’re going to take that engineer out and shoot him.”
Democrats seized on the quote as evidence that Dewey was out of touch with Joe Sixpack. “That’s what they do to workers in the USSR,” they howled, playing on the blue collars’ known suspicion of communism.
Throughout Election Night, famed radio commentator H.V. Kaltenborn assured his listeners that Dewey would pull ahead “when the rural counties are counted.” We saw a memorable repetition of this episode when Karl Rove challenged the Ohio count and pursued FOX News’s Megyn Kelly right down to the computer stations. It was as if the White Rabbit had chased Alice.
In the end, Truman’s win at any price strategy proved successful. Although there were a million and a half fewer votes cast in the 1948 two-party contest then there had been, amazingly, in the wartime election of 1944, Truman got 1.5 million fewer votes than an obviously stricken FDR had gained in his last campaign. Still, Truman edged Dewey by more than two million popular votes and more than 100 Electoral Votes.
One of our friends reported the day after the 2012 election that his lawyer daughter, who is personally pro-life but politically pro-choice, voted at 2:00 pm on Election Day. At 2:20, she got a text message on her iPhone from the Obama campaign thanking her for voting. Would she kindly contact six of her FaceBook friends and urge them to vote, too?
We should never forget: In government, liberals move and breathe and have their being.